US standing by its peace plan, sovereignty and all

This is also a move Israel has to actively make, as opposed the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing the Golan Heights.

IMPLEMENTATION OF the ‘Vision for Peace’ will denote a change in the way the world views both Israel and the settlements. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
IMPLEMENTATION OF the ‘Vision for Peace’ will denote a change in the way the world views both Israel and the settlements.
The message from a senior White House source that said “there is not yet a final decision” on how Israel will implement US President Donald Trump’s peace plan received a lot of attention last week.
What was less noticed was the arrival of International Negotiators and special advisers to the President Avi Berkowitz and Scott Leith of the US National Security Council in Israel, as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterating his oft-repeated message that “the decisions about Israel extending sovereignty towards these places are decisions for the Israelis to make.”
But those visitors and that statement convey an even more important message, that the US is ready for Israel to enact its “Vision for Peace.”
When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in the Trump administration say it is Israel’s choice whether or not to apply sovereignty in the West Bank, he means it. The US is not going to decide for Israel whether to go with the full 30% of the West Bank that the Trump plan suggests, or to start with a smaller sovereignty move. Israel as a sovereign nation needs to make its own sovereignty decisions.
This is also a move Israel has to actively make, as opposed to the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, after Israel already applied its laws there in 1981.
An administration official with knowledge of the matter speaking to The Jerusalem Post this weekend pointed out that any move Israel makes will have a cost, and the government needs to make its own decision as to what is worth doing.
But contrary to how many have interpreted these statements and the general atmosphere in Washington, that does not mean that Trump or his Special Adviser Jared Kushner are pushing for Israel to drop any sovereignty plans. The administration has no interest in walking away from the “Vision for Peace” that it spent years preparing, and any moves Israel makes in accordance with that plan will have US support.
And that can happen when Israel is ready. July 1 was a date that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put in the coalition agreement as the earliest date for a vote; the Americans would be fine with it happening later, if need be, even if it is close to the November presidential election, because they are less concerned about its electoral impact at this point.
Berkowitz and Leith’s presence in Israel show the Trump administration’s will to advance its vision. They are here to work intensively on the ground to make that happen – however Israel decides to proceed at this juncture.
The conversation in Israel has been “yes annexation, no annexation,” but Leith’s role is to focus on the other parts of the plan. Leith’s arrival indicates the administration’s seriousness about the “Vision for Peace” being for both sides of the conflict, and not just a way for Israel to expand its sovereignty. This is in line with the generous aid package the Trump plan offered to the Palestinians if they follow conditions for state-building, such as stopping incitement to terrorism against Israelis and giving their citizens civil rights.
Leith, who has many years of experience in the State Department with the Israel-Palestinian conflict portfolio, will be looking for realistic ways to better the Palestinians’ lives, despite the administration’s assessment that the Palestinian Authority will continue to be wholly uncooperative.
Berkowitz, the source says, is underestimated by Israelis, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Defense Minister Benny Gantz have come to understand the important role he plays.
In the past year since he took on the international negotiations role, Berkowitz has earned the confidence of the president and other senior members of the administration, such as Pompeo, and has become the most effective surrogate for Kushner, the source said. Berkowitz has been fielding the phone calls from Europe and the Gulf States voicing their opposition to the Trump plan.
On Thursday, foreign ministers of six different countries called asking for Berkowitz himself, because they realized he has a meaningful position on this matter. He listened to their misgivings, but responded that this plan is the best chance for peace moving forward, and is not simply an Israeli land grab.
Kushner was recently asked why he’s not “running a victory lap” over the kind of progress the plan has already made.
After all, since the plan came out, things have happened in the Middle East that were once unimaginable, such as United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba publishing an open letter opposing sovereignty moves in Hebrew to the Israeli public. A country that once did not accept Israel’s existence in any form is now concerned about its dimensions, and is openly talking about normalization. Israel and the UAE are even cooperating on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
The answer Kushner gave his interlocutor was that he doesn’t feel like he’s won yet, because he still wants to strive for peace. That is how committed he is to the “Vision for Peace” that the Trump administration made public on January 28 of this year.
That is why they’ve sent their peace team to Israel now. The message is that they’re standing by the peace plan, and they’re serious about making it happen – sovereignty and all.